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Locke rules

Ian Hacking, 21 November 1991

Locke. Vol. I: Epistemology 
by Michael Ayers.
Routledge, 341 pp., £90, September 1991, 0 415 06406 6
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Locke. Vol. II: Ontology 
by Michael Ayers.
Routledge, 341 pp., £90, September 1991, 0 415 06407 4
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... If it is true, as it seemed to Whitehead, that the whole of Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato, then it must be equally true that the philosophical writing of the English-speaking peoples consists chiefly of ‘problems from Locke’. Not moral philosophy, for sure, but examinations of what we know, how we think, what there is, what a person is ...

Mindblind

Ian Hacking: Religion’s evolutionary origins, 21 October 2004

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion 
by Scott Atran.
Oxford, 348 pp., £20.99, November 2002, 0 19 514930 0
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... Scott Atran packs a lot into his subtitles. ‘Evolutionary Landscape’: that’s the new idea in this book about gods. The human mind has evolved with numerous capacities. Each distinct capacity is well adapted to performing a group of tasks in its domain. Individuals possess these capacities in varying degrees, but they are part of the universal genetic inheritance of the human race ...

Mitteleuropa am Aldwych

Ian Hacking: The Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondence, 20 January 2000

For and against Method: including Lakatos’s Lectures on Scientific Method and the Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondence 
by Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend, edited by Matteo Motterlini.
Chicago, 451 pp., £24, October 1999, 0 226 46774 0
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... down texts, but I can’t blame him on that score. On 23 June 1972, Feyerabend wrote: ‘Reading Hacking I get gratified – it is nice to see one’s name in print – and nervous, for should I not now write the Definitive Summary of My Thought?’ Well, from time to time I’ve written this or that about Feyerabend, but I can find nothing in print before ...

Solipsism

Ian Hacking, 4 February 1988

The False Prison: A Study of the Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, Vol. I 
by David Pears.
Oxford, 202 pp., £19.50, September 1987, 0 19 824771 0
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Wittgenstein’s Nephew 
by Thomas Bernhard.
Quartet, 120 pp., £8.95, February 1987, 0 7043 2611 6
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... This is the first half of a survey of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. The division into two quite slim volumes does not mean that Professor Pears accepts a received view: that the man had two philosophies. The split is practical. University courses are commonly about either Philosophical Investigations or Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, published in 1953 and 1921 respectively ...

Putnam’s Change of Mind

Ian Hacking, 4 May 1989

Representation and Reality 
by Hilary Putnam.
MIT, 136 pp., £14.95, September 1988, 0 262 16108 7
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Mental Content 
by Colin McGinn.
Blackwell, 218 pp., £25, January 1989, 0 631 16369 7
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... Big issues and little issues: among established working philosophers there is none more gifted at making us think anew about both than Hilary Putnam. His latest book is motivated by large considerations, most of its arguments are driven by small ones, and its topic is deliberately restricted to something middle-sized: the brain, the mind and the computer program ...

Knowledge

Ian Hacking, 18 December 1986

How institutions think 
by Mary Douglas.
Syracuse, 146 pp., $19.95, July 1986, 0 8156 2369 0
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... This is the delightfully short, exuberant, slightly jerky and certainly tumultuous product of five lectures that could have been advertised under the ponderous title ‘Human Knowledge and the Social Order’. The lectures were weighty, I think, but ponderous they were not. Douglas dances over an amazing array of topics. The effect is some sort of intellectual hopscotch; the reader hops from square to square, sideways, diagonally, sometimes landing with feet in different squares ...

‘Screw you, I’m going home’

Ian Hacking, 22 June 2000

Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction Versus the Richness of Being 
by Paul Feyerabend, edited by Bert Terpstra.
Chicago, 285 pp., £19, February 2000, 0 226 24533 0
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... Paul Feyerabend, the philosopher of science and famous iconoclast about the sciences, wrote in Killing Time, his autobiography published post-humously in 1996, that ‘in an incautious moment’ he had promised his young wife that he would produce ‘one more collage, a book no less, on the topic of reality’. He stopped work in November 1993 when he became ill, and died soon afterwards, at the age of seventy ...

Gabble, Twitter and Hoot

Ian Hacking: Language, deafness and the senses, 1 July 1999

I See a Voice: A Philosophical History of Language, Deafness and the Senses 
by Jonathan Rée.
HarperCollins, 399 pp., £19.99, January 1999, 0 00 255793 2
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... Jonathan Rée takes some tomfoolery from Shakespeare for his title and uses it to create his own striking metaphor. The middle part of his book is about sign languages for the deaf: voices that one sees. The same trope served Oliver Sacks in Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf (1989), but there is more to it than that for Rée. The quotation is from Bottom’s burlesque of love at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream ...

His Father The Engineer

Ian Hacking, 28 May 1992

Understanding the present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man 
by Bryan Appleyard.
Picador, 272 pp., £14.95, May 1992, 0 330 32012 2
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... There’s widespread distrust of science and technology abroad in (at least) the prosperous English-speaking countries. It shows up where it hurts most. I don’t mean in lack of national funding for research, especially research for its own sake. There is, even in Britain after Thatcher, an amazing proportion of national treasure invested in the sciences ...

Making up the mind

Ian Hacking, 1 September 1988

The Computer and the Mind: An Introduction to Cognitive Science 
by P.N. Johnson-Laird.
Harvard/Fontana, 444 pp., £23.50, May 1988, 0 674 15615 3
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... Perhaps the mind stands to the brain in much the same way that the program stands to the computer.’ That is the vision behind this admirable book for newcomers. Introductions to cognitive science are seldom neutral. They’re not like beginners’ textbooks of Norwegian grammar or topology, nor do they much resemble popular science-writing about quarks or gene-splicing ...

Living Things

Ian Hacking, 21 February 1991

Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science 
by Scott Atran.
Cambridge, 360 pp., £35, August 1990, 0 521 37293 3
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... War,’ said an old peacenik poster with the words scrawled across a child’s drawing of a tree, ‘is harmful to children and other living things.’ This subtle and sophisticated book has a little of that same power to shock by innocence. It is about how children think of living things, less a matter of what they learn than of what human nature teaches about nature ...

The Passing Show

Ian Hacking, 2 January 1997

On Blindness: Letters between Bryan Magee and Martin Milligan 
Oxford, 188 pp., £16.99, September 1995, 0 19 823543 7Show More
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... Bryan Magee is a brilliant philosophical entrepreneur, host of two BBC television series in which he interviewed live philosophers and dead ones (the latter mediated by other live ones). The late Martin Milligan was a talented philosopher, one who was blind, not from birth but early in life. Magee, with characteristic panache, had a splendid idea: let’s get at some philosophical issues about perception by pursuing a dialogue ...

Pull the Other One

Ian Hacking, 26 January 1995

The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life 
by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray.
Free Press, 845 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 02 914673 9
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... Late last autumn this book received a prodigious amount of attention in the United States. No one who has been exposed to any of the American media can have escaped it. Among the reactions was a chorus of élite liberal denunciations. The New Republic of 31 October ran a piece by Murray followed by 18 criticisms. Stephen Jay Gould spoke out in the New Yorker of 28 November ...

What’s best

Ian Hacking, 27 January 1994

The Nature of Rationality 
by Robert Nozick.
Princeton, 226 pp., £19.95, August 1993, 0 691 07424 0
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... Robert Nozick has a unique place in the annals of rational choice theory: he refuted it. Or so say I in my role as the last of the true Popperians. That was back in 1969. But now the mature philosopher is out to turn the theory into, not exactly a transcendental reality, but something implanted deep in the minds of some, if not all, human beings who have been sculpted by Darwinian evolution ...

Plato’s Friend

Ian Hacking, 17 December 1992

Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 520 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 7011 3998 6
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... I was completely gripped by this astonishing monologue, but the next person to pick up my review copy said it looked like one long run-on sentence. What is it, besides a monologue? ‘How weird your categories are! It’s philosophy, if you like – but what does that mean it’s thinking, and it’s a programme of action.’ That’s Crimond, the high-flyer, in Iris Murdoch’s 1989 The Book of the Brotherhood, replying to a question about his projected book ...

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